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Jazz Festivals around the World

Festivals are a great way to bring people together through music. Although Coachella and Glastonbury are the first that spring to mind, they don’t appeal to everyone’s taste, but luckily there are some great alternatives out there for those of you who prefer something a bit jazzier. Read of for some of the best jazz festival across the globe.

Chicago Jazz Festival, Illinois

When: August - September

2013 Headliners: Jack DeJohnette, Wadada Leo Smith, Jason Moran, Robert Glasper, Donald Harrison, Charles Lloyd, Jimmy Heath and Rudresh Mahanthappa.

About: Since 1979, the Chicago jazz festival has showcased the best musicians from the local area and as well as an international stage. The festival began as a tribute to the composer Duke Ellington, who died in the summer of 1974, after which local music lovers held a small festival at the old bandshell in Grant Park to honour his life. Four years later, the first John Coltrane Memorial Concert was held in the same park. The festivals have since amalgamated to form the great Chicago Jazz Festival, which is held over Labour Day across three venues: Grant Park, the Chicago Cultural Centre and Millennium Park. The best part is that it’s completely free to attend, making it the largest free festival of its kind in the world! Those attending can set up picnics and comfy chairs throughout the parks or get in the thick of the action right at the front to listen to the soulful sounds. In between music sets, head to the Cloud Gate sculpture, aka the bean in Park Grill; this is an iconic mirrored, bean shaped sculpture which provides a great photo opportunity.

Festival Website:


Montréal Jazz Festival, Quebec

When:  June – July

2013 Headliners: Charles Lloyd (accompanied by drummer Eric Harland, pianist Jason Moran and guitarist Bill Frisell), the Specials, Gregory Porter and Aretha Franklin. Next year, expect a similar calibre of performers!

About: The festival was developed by Alain Simard, André Ménard and Denys McCann who first staged it in 1980, when a modest crown of 12,000 attended. Fast forward a few years and, in 2004, the festival was named by the Guinness World Records as the biggest jazz festival in the world, as it attracts over two million enthusiasts each year. There are hundreds of concerts to enjoy over a ten day period, with loads of talented musicians playing. Since the first Montreal jazz festival in 1980, the stages have witnessed jazz legends such as Aretha Franklin, Ella Fitzgerald and Ray Charles, to name a few. Around two thirds of the event is free and held across outdoor stages, however some performances are held in indoor concert halls, such as the Place des Arts (P.D.A), where there is an entrance fee. Performances take place between midday and midnight, so cram in some sightseeing during the morning. The Montreal Botanical Gardens provide a beautiful setting for an early morning stroll where there are over 20,000 different types of plants.

Loulé International Jazz Festival, Algarve

When: July

2013 Headliners: João Paulo, Ricardo Coelhos Jazz Band Project, Ana Maria Jopek and Quintet Desidério Lazáro.

About: Europe has many well-respected jazz festivals to rival the American big boys – although slightly smaller, they’re still great fun and provide a chance to listen to some soulful sounds. The Loulé jazz festival is held in the Municipal Park of Loulé in Portugal’s Algarve. It is an open air event, which gives you the perfect chance to enjoy the warm Portuguese weather. There are two stages which host two concerts each evening, providing an intimate setting with a beautiful sound track. There are plenty of food and drink stalls serving delicious traditional cuisine, such as BBQ piri-piri chicken and locally produced wine. Loulé is located slightly inland, but the popular resorts of Albufeira and Vilamoura are less than half an hour away and easily accessible, so you may want to try and stay near the coast as the Blue Flag beaches are stunning! Find out more information about resorts near Loulé here. The festival is only three days long, so there is plenty of time to explore the rest of the Algarve either side of the jazz weekend. As well as boasting a stunning coastline, Albufeira is a golf haven for him and a shopper’s paradise for her.

Monterey Jazz Festival, California

When: September

2013 Headliners: George Benson, Diana Krall, Bobby McFerrin, Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, Gregory Porter, Bob James, David Sanborn and Wayne Shorter.

About: Since 1958 the Monterey jazz festival, which was founded by radio broadcaster Jimmy Lyons, has witnessed huge names, from Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday, to Dizzy Gillespie and Ernestine Anderson, taking to the stage. The 56th edition of the Californian festival is due to take place in September, making it the longest running jazz festival in the world. Hundreds of artists perform jazz, blues and folk music across eight stages in the Monterey county fairgrounds. There are also numerous exhibitions, talks and workshops to keep you entertained, with the aim of inspiring young jazz talent to keep the genre alive. To refuel between concerts, head to the taste tent – where a variety of international cuisines are served as well as local produce. Once the festival has come to an end, discover the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary – by kayak! You’ll have the chance to get up close and personal with wild sea otters, sea lions and harbour seals while admiring the beautiful scenery. If you’d rather gaze at sea life from behind the safety enclosures, head to Monterey Bay Aquarium to see sharks, seahorses and jelly fish.

Malta Jazz Festival, Valetta

When: July

2013 Headliners: Robert Glasper Experiment, Gregory Porter, Vijay Iyer, Michel Camilo and Gilad Hekselman.

About: Since 1990, this UNESCO world heritage site has hosted an outdoor jazz festival in the grounds of the beautiful Ta’ Liesse Church. Organised by the Malta Council for Culture and the Arts, the annual event attracts an array of international talent as well as Maltese artists. The waterfront setting and the grand baroque architecture provide the ideal backdrop to accompany the sound of piano keys and saxophones. The festival attracts many well-known names, such as Robert Glasper, who is renowned for combining jazz with hip-hop, R&B and rock to create an unusual sound. There are plenty of bars, cafes and bistros dotted around the city, so be sure to try traditional Maltese cuisine in between performances. Explore Valetta and plan a visit to St. Johns Co-Cathedral, built by the Knights of St John in the 16th and 17th centuries. To continue the musical theme, check out the Manoel Theatre – it is the second oldest in Europe and has been in use since 1732! Explore the historically rich city for yourself; find out more information about Malta here.

So there we have it, a roundup of some of the bets jazz festivals to put on your festival bucket list. Who needs Glastonbury and Coachella when you could opt for something much cooler? 

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